Tom Whitehead, Telegraph, December 17, 2015
Immigration officers have given up trying to find more than 10,000 asylum seekers who are missing in Britain, a watchdog has revealed.
Staff are not even checking last known addresses because it is “not a priority” and a “drain on resources”, the chief inspector of borders and immigration found.
Illegal immigrants have also been allowed to abscond after being released from custody because there are no beds available in detention centres.
And more than 30,000 failed asylum seekers are still in the UK more than two years after all appeals against removal were exhausted, the report said.
David Bolt, the chief inspector, delays in dealing with asylum cases made it more likely they would be able to stay in the UK.
His review of removals found 10,000 asylum cases where the main applicant and dependants, including children, were no longer in contact with the Home Office or had absconded.
But “while immigration enforcement teams could conduct residential visits to attempt to trace absconders they were reluctant to do so as this work was not a priority and was considered a drain on resources”, the report said.
In a sample of 338 cases examined by inspectors, 48 individuals were logged as absconders.
Of these, an attempt to locate the person had been made in only nine instances, including five in which teams visited last known addresses.
As of September last year, there were also 30,406 failed asylum seekers who were still in the UK more than two years after their last appeal against removal had been rejected.
Mr Bolt said: “Failure to deal with asylum cases in a timely manner was inefficient as well as ineffective.
“The more time an asylum case took to resolve, the more likely barriers to removal would arise from the formation of relationships, the birth of children and other community ties.
“It also meant individuals were left not knowing if or when the Home Office might take action to remove them.”
Staff at sites which some immigrants are required to attend periodically said their resources have become increasingly stretched due to the number of individuals on reporting regimes, which stood at 47,000 last December.
The report said: “Managers said that the numbers reporting placed pressure on back office administrative functions, such as taking action against individuals who had failed to report.”
It added that limited bed space in detention centres meant some individuals who had repeatedly failed to abide by the rules were not pursued or detained because they did not fit “priority categories”, with some of those later absconding.
The inquiry identified a “disconnect” between the work of different departments, saying poor communication was having an “adverse impact on efficiency and effectiveness”.
However, the report said increases in the numbers of voluntary departures suggested the Home Office’s focus on this area was having an impact.
In a separate report from Mr Bolt, it emerged immigration officers are not allowed to chase suspected illegal workers if they run off during a raid.
Enforcement teams are also powerless if additional suspects discovered on premises refuse to answer questions and want to leave.
Staff have been ignoring the Home Office guidelines in order to detain suspected illegal immigrants but a watchdog has warned it could mean suspects were held illegally.
Guidance states that enforcement officers raiding business premises cannot pursue anyone leaving the building unless they are aware of their immigration status.
“In six cases we found that officers had failed to comply with this guidance and had given chase in an effort to apprehend the individuals, raising issues about unlawful detention and/or arrest and officer safety,” the report said.
If other suspects are found other than a “named offender”, staff can only ask “consensual questions” to try and discover their immigration status.
“But should a person seek to exercise their right not to answer questions and leave, there is no power to arrest that person purely on suspicion of committing an immigration offence,” it said.
The report revealed that the focus of immigration visits has shifted away from enforcement raids to “educational visits” to encourage employers not to hire illegal staff.
It also found that intelligence about illegal working mostly consisted of “low-level allegations” by members of the public.
Home Office spokesman said: “We expect people with no right to be here to leave the country voluntarily–and we offer help for them to do this–but where they do not, we will enforce their departure.”